Once it had been the great forest of Lythe--a vast and impenetrable thicket of green with a mystery in the very heart of the trees. And here, in the beginning, lived the Fairfaxes, grandly, at Fairfax Manor, visited once by the great Gloriana herself.
But over the centuries the forest had been destroyed, replaced by Streets of Trees. The Fairfaxes had dwindled too; now they lived in 'Arden' at the end of Hawthorne Close and were hardly a family at all.
There was Vinny (the Aunt from Hell)--with her cats and her crab-apple face. And Gordon, who had forgotten them for seven years and, when he remembered, came back with fat Debbie, who shared her one brain cell with a poodle. And then there were Charles and Isobel, the children. Charles, the acne-scarred Lost Boy, passed his life awaiting visits from aliens and the return of his mother. But it is Isobel to whom the story belongs--Isobel, born on the Streets of Trees, who drops into pockets of time and out again. Isobel is sixteen and she too is waiting for the return of her mother--the thin, dangerous Eliza with her scent of nicotine, Arpege and sex, whose disappearance is part of the mystery that still remains at the heart of the forest.
Human Croquet is a game in which some people act as hoops while others propel a blindfolded "ball" around the course. Though the game is never actually played in Kate Atkinson's remarkable novel, Human Croquet
, the parallels between plot and pastime are undeniable. Atkinson, winner of the 1995 Whitbread Award in Britain, tells the story of Isobel Fairfax and her older brother, Charles. The children's parents vanished when they were young, leaving them to the care of their grandmother, now dead, and their Aunt Vinny. Recently their father has returned with "the Debbie-wife" in tow, and they all live in Arden, the family's ancestral home built on the foundations of the original manor house that burned to the ground in 1605. According to family legend, the first Fairfax took a wife who mysteriously disappeared one day, leaving in her wake a curse on the Fairfax name. More than 300 years later, Fairfax descendants are still struggling with this painful legacy.
Atkinson's novel is obviously not rooted in dull reality. Narrator Isobel has an uncanny knowledge of past and future events; Charles is obsessed with the concept of parallel universes and time travel; and a faery curse hangs over everybody. Fortunately, Kate Atkinson is a masterful writer who manages to keep her world of wonders in check. Human Croquet is no ordinary novel, and readers who venture into the Fairfax universe are in for a magical ride.